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What Life Is Like In Raqqa, A Syrian City Controlled By ISIS


The United States and its allies are talking about how to retake the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. That northern Syrian city has been in ISIS control since 2014. Abdalaziz Alhamza is from there. He runs a website called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which shares news about the latest developments in the city. He's 25 years old, and he's seen a lot of misery.

ABDALAZIZ ALHAMZA: I got arrested by the Syrian regime three times and tortured, and I was lucky to be alive.

INSKEEP: That was back when the Syrian government ran the place. He enjoyed his life for a time when anti-government rebels gained control. But then ISIS arrived.

ALHAMZA: It happened, like, after Raqqa was liberated. Two cars and 10 fighters, more or less, they came to the city. And what was originally the (unintelligible) the Islamic State in Iraq, they rised up their flag in the main headquarter of the city.

So when we saw this flag, we discovered we are facing a new extremism group. Step by step, they started to show their reality. The change point in that time was when they did the first public execution. They killed three people. They were masked, and they said that they were spies for the Syrian regime. They didn't mention their names. They didn't show their faces.

So after that, many demonstrations started to be against them. They knew how to deal with it. They started, like, to defeat the Free Syrian Army, to scare them, to arrest the activists. And they assassinated one of our friends. He was, like, activism Raqqa.

And after that, I was covering the last clashes between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army groups, and ISIS came to my house looking for me. I was lucky that I was not home. I got the news from the neighborhood, and later on, I was able to escape to Turkey.

INSKEEP: You escaped to Turkey in 2014?

ALHAMZA: Yes, after they controlled the city in two days.

INSKEEP: How strong are ISIS defenses?

ALHAMZA: Super strong because, like, for them, Raqqa is the capital. And losing Raqqa means, like, defeating Islamic State.

INSKEEP: I can imagine you being eager to have ISIS driven out of your city. But I could also imagine you being sad or troubled that there might be more destruction and much more death.

ALHAMZA: For - to have, like, this destruction - like, people are getting killed. But other things, it depends on the group who will come and control Raqqa because right now, for the civilians, they know that if they will live under ISIS control saying nothing against them, doing nothing wrong, no one will admit anything to them.

And for the civilians who have been through ISIS, opposition, Syrian regime, barrel bombs, civil war and many more airstrikes, they don't want to face a new group.

INSKEEP: Abdalaziz Alhamza, thanks very much.

ALHAMZA: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Abdalaziz Alhamza is one of the founders of the website Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.